Jeneé Osterheldt

Kevin Hart’s comedy comes from the heart

By Jeneé Osterheldt

Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart Summit Entertainment

Kevin Hart has found his tipping point.

The 32-year-old comic  has been doing stand-up for more than a decade and, along the way, has appeared in such films as "Little Fockers," "Death at a Funeral" and the "Scary Movie" spoofs.

He went from sideman to stealing the show.

Maybe it started in 2009 with his standup routine "I'm a Grown Little Man." Or his follow-up CD and comedy special, 2010's "Seriously Funny."

But then last year's "Laugh at My Pain" comedy tour grossed more than $15 million - no small feat. The subsequent concert film made some $8 million, with little marketing and a budget of less than $1 million.

Hart became commercial, in a way that is usually reserved for athletes, red carpet royalty and pop stars.

He popped up on ABC's "Modern Family"  as Phil's friendly neighbor. He's in Jordan brand and Ford Explorer commercials. Almost 4 million people follow him on Twitter (@kevinhart4real). He took home the MVP award at this year's NBA All-Star celebrity game  - despite being  ejected  for arguing with a referee.

And now he co-stars in the new romantic comedy "Think Like a Man." But don't expect Hart to do a victory dance.

"I set my goals very high, and I don't want to celebrate yet," he tells The Star. "I feel blessed and thankful, but I don't want to be content with my career right now. When you think about it and accept it, you think you don't need to go anywhere else. But there is so much more that I want to do. I have to stay motivated."

To keep the momentum going, not only has Hart started his own company, Hartbeat Productions, he recently signed on to star in a police comedy with Seth Rogen. He's serious about acting. He says his dream role would be something like Joe Pesci's character in "Goodfellas" because no one would expect him to pull it off.

In "Think Like a Man," Hart takes on a role closer to home as Cedric, a man in the middle of a divorce. He brings  his own experience to the role.

"I recently went through a divorce and tapped into my own trials, good and bad, and incorporated them into Cedric's personality," Hart says. "When you have a great cast and director, it allows you to improv and have funny moments."

What would Hart say to the ladies about thinking like men?

"Women would do a lot better in understanding men if they were realists," he says. "At the end of the day we aren't smart and we don't make the smart decisions. We don't realize how dumb it is until it's done. It takes a man almost losing what he has to realize what it is he needs to hold on to."

Right now, Hart is holding on to his sanity. Many before him have crumbled under pressure. With all the fame, he works hard to keep himself grounded and focused.

"I keep the same circle around me," he says. "I don't mess with a lot of outsiders. When the people around you really know you, they will never let you think you are better than you are or too big."

Being big or small is a recurring  theme in his comedy. Hart is 5 foot 2, and he  jokes about being the little guy.

"I've never seen it as a weakness," he says. "I just like to say it first and disarm people."

Turning  insecurities and hardships  into  laughter is what Hart does best. 

"You have to take the bad or whatever is happening in your life that you would consider awful and turn it around," Hart says. "People have to learn to find the positive, and the best way to do that is to look in the dark places you have and find the good. I talk about things people wouldn't talk about - like my divorce, my mom's death, my dad. It's dark, but there's good in it."

Many of Hart's comedic influences did the same.

 "I wouldn't be doing comedy if it wasn't for Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy," he says. "Eddie Murphy broke down barriers for all of us. I put those guys on a pedestal because they changed comedy. All of the young standup comedians are able to walk through certain doors because these men opened those doors up."

Hart is also a fan of Martin Lawrence and Dave Chappelle, and as much as all of the comics before him inspired him, he is looking to make  his own path.

"My goal is to separate myself from the pack and work on building my brand," he says. "The comedians that came before me put me in a place to understand comedy and be honest about who I am. Those guys said things that hadn't been said before. They shared their story. That's the key.

"No one can share my story but me. My experiences are mine. I paint pictures for people to see. And it's all about constantly reinventing myself and pushing the envelope. I aim to be universal, not just black or white. I want to make everyone laugh."